BionX SL 350 HT – Electric Mountain Bikes?

Cross Country

Electric bicycles are a touchy subject. Let’s face it, they have little appeal to the hardcore mountain biker. In fact, the idea of out-of-shape couch jockeys clogging up our favorite singletrack assaults our collective senses. But do electric bicycles really have a valid market outside of the commuter or M.U.T. (multi-user-trail aka paved or gravel path) rider? Electric bikes have gained acceptance in Europe, Canada and other countries, but what is it that is slowing their acceptance here in the US?

Big name brands like Trek, Orbea, Raleigh and others all have models that use the BionX technology. BionX is a motorized hub, battery and control console that come stock on some models but can also be retro-fitted to almost any bike. The battery can be mounted to either the down tube or to a rear rack. At the QBP SaddleDrive dealer event, BionX had demo bikes with their electric drive system including Surly Moonlander and Pugsly fat bikes and Salsa Horsethief full suspension 29ers. Response from dealers was mostly positive.

Like many emerging technologies, the challenges are familiar. Weight and price are high. Acknowledging these hurdles, BionX has recently lowered both for 2013. The new 48v system has a new SL motor that has been lightened by 2.5 lbs and the price has been dropped from $1950 to $1700 (prices for the higher end model have dropped from $2100 to $1900). The bigger controller console has been improved for easier usage and better access to settings and features. Even the battery has been lightened. The biggest news is that the battery has gone from a 37 volt system to a 48 volt system for their Premium line (SL 350 HT). The 37 volt system is still available in the BionX “Power” line (PL 350HT). They also make a cheaper 26v system (PL 250 M) as well. The new Premium battery offers 20% more range than the old ‘L’ battery versions.

I personally own a BionX equipped Trek hardtail that I have ridden on some of my favorite trails as well as commuting. The main thing to keep in mind is that the BionX is a “pedal-assist” system. It does have the option for a rider to hold the “throttle” down and not pedal. However, this eats up the battery in a huge way and is not the intended purpose. Also, there are limits to how fast and how steep you can climb using the battery only. The system is designed to ADD to the rider’s own power inputs (thus creating an appropriately named ‘bionic’ pedaler).

Like many things new, acceptance is based on many factors, but key to electric bike acceptance will be getting riders to TRY an electric bike. Sure, it isn’t for everybody and every trail. However, for given riders and situations, it can allow riders who might normally find the fitness level required to be too daunting to even try, thus expanding the potential community of mountain bikers (which is a good thing!) Perhaps you have a significant other, older child or co-worker who is interested in trying mountain biking, but is worried about not being able to “keep up”. Depending on the kinds of trails you ride, electric pedal-assist bicycles may be the key.

What about unfit wannabe’s clogging our favorite trails? Well, as most experienced riders know, the fitness aspect of mountain biking is only one facet and there are other skills that need to be developed along with having the ability to tackle all the climbing. Crowded trails due to e-bike riders? I’m not worried.

******************

Here are the tech highlights of the Premium SL 350 HT XL kit from BionX:

Top of the line system with an Xtra Long range 48 V battery, offering 20% more range than the ‘L’ battery versions. Includes our new SL motor, featuring the same performance specifications of the PL 350 HT L, but about 2.5lb lighter. Standard with our new compact power supply, this system is for users who won’t compromise. The best weight to distance ratio in the BionX system roster.

  • Range**: 105km (65 mi.)
  • Battery: Li-Ion / 48V / 8.8 Ah / 423 Wh
  • Torque (Nom./Max.): 9.0/40.0 Nm (6.6/29.5 lb.-ft.)
  • Weight (System): 7.3kg (16.1 lb.)
  • Assist Levels: 35, 75, 150, 300%

For more info: www.bionxinternational.com

 

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About the author: Gregg Kato

Gregg Kato studied journalism and broadcasting in college while working many different jobs including deejaying, driving a forklift and building web sites (not all at the same time). Kato has been the Site Manager of Mtbr.com for over 12 years and enjoys riding local Santa Cruz trails. Besides being an avid mountain biker, he is also a motorcycle fanatic. Two wheels, one Passion.


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  • professore says:

    Not for me but I can understand the appeal. My biggest concern has to do with trail access. Mountain bikers get a bad rap already for going to fast and damaging trails. We are now introducing a motor and strapping it on a mountain bike. I can’t imagine we won’t have to fight harder to keep our trails open.

  • Renoirbud says:

    Our trails state clearly ‘no motorized vehicles’

  • sherpasd says:

    You nailed it. These are not being adopted in the states for the reason you posed in the article. Fat, lazy, ignorant people clogging up the trail systems in the US. We already have enormous trail issues in the lower 48 and adding these ‘machines’ will only make that fight more difficult.

    • Alan Jones says:

      Fat,Lazy ? I own a high end E-Bike { Rmartim MiPower } , I’ve done 1200 + miles the last 6 weeks , I often go 50 miles a day. I never go on MTB bike trails but hit the streets, I sold one of my cars saved 6 grand there, these bikes cost nothing to use. I’m 50 years old & it makes exercise fun, very green tecnology. I will always own an E-bike if you tried one you’d know why

    • GQB says:

      Classy… ‘Fat, lazy, ignorant’… well aren’t we superior?
      I’ve bike across 3 continents over the past 40 years, and frankly have earned the right not to tear up my knees grunting on uphills.
      BionX riders pedal just as much, but simply cover more ground in the same time as unassisted. I commute on my 13 miles each way every day to work over hills my knees couldn’t take any more thanks to this kit.
      But don’t worry.. you’ll grow up into an adult some day.

  • borasam says:

    You either are or are not. I ride, therefor I am. These bikes are NOT.

  • Chief_Mojo says:

    I can see it for the reasons Alan pointed out. I commute on my road bike to work and I think green tech is a great way to get less cars on the road. I could even accept seeing people on the trails with this type of technology that have some type of disability such as soldiers who have lost a leg or something like that. But fat slobs clogging my trail on an e-bike, I would not take well to that. But I don’t think that would be an issue as Renoirbud pointed out.

  • MTT77 says:

    Fitness is the price of entry for many of the best rides out there. These things do NOT belong on trails. If there is a gravel road or a fire road where they allow motorized vehicles, then knock yourself out. But stay off the singletrack, fatty.

  • Rog says:

    I am in the fatty bracket myself, but that doesn’t stop me from picking up my MTB and ride every hill / trail possible… I thought it was the whole point of doing cycling – to GAIN fitness? I can see the appeal for a Ebike of course and I am sure, once they make the batteries TINY (maybe in 5-8y) it will be more seen on trails too.. But personally, as said, I find it defeats the purpose? MTBing is about tough climbs, in order to enjoy technical descends… and if you really can’;t tackle a hill, then go to places, where there is ski lift service and ride it down?

    • GQB says:

      Read. It doesn’t defeat any purpose, unless your purpose is destroying your knees.
      Man this site has some arrogant people.

  • gnawbonelefty says:

    As an owner of an e-assist bike I can say they absolutely have a place.

    I am someone who was an avid mountain biker, and suffered a debilitating illness, electric assist was essential in my recovery. Make no mistake, you still have to work to ride one of these off road, It does take the edge off of non technical climbs, but it’s heavy and the proportional assist sometimes creates a feeling of understeer.

    Now that I can manage without the assist, I prefer not to use it, but when I had to keep my exertion level manageable it was fantastic.

    I guess my point is, the reasons we ride are varied, not all of us have the same physical gifts, If someones passion is to ride out the woods, they should be welcomed. e-assists are quiet, non-source polluting, and having ridden one, can tell you they are very much in the spirit of mt biking.

    If the trails become clogged because of electric assists, that gives us lobbying pressure for more trails. that’s a win-win situation.

  • bob says:

    Wow! Mountain bikers are almost worse snobs than road bikers. I have been biking

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